Morobe’s seven bad years

Weekender

By FRANK SENGE KOLMA
[email protected]
A reader’s reaction to the previous article on Morobe’s seven good years.
I am Patilias Gamato, former Electoral Commissioner.  I totally agree with you on your story about Utula’s legacy.  I started work with the MPG in 1984 to 2015.  I worked under Utula, Jerry Nalau, Enny Moaitz, Titi Christian, Hagai Joshua, Luther Wenge and Kelly Naru.  I was there and saw everything that happened and what you have described about Utula’s ideologies and development impacts. 
One thing that greatly contributed to the impact and his success in developments was human resources.  He had key positions occupied by expatriates who supported him well. People like: Provincial Secretary Gus Schwinfurth; Finance Manager Mark Jungen; Legal Officer Theresa Doherty; Works Manager Dennis Matthews; Research Officer Paul Forest; and Project Officer Dr Klaus Zwanzer.
Nationals who contributed at management level were: Provincial Economist Yaungere Gomi Gipe; Assistant Secretary Health  Dr Likei Theo; Assistant Secretary Education; William Walmari; and Clerk of Tutumang Bayang Mare
These are just a few in his dynamic team.  It is one thing to be a politician but it’s another thing to build a strong team of professionals who can drive your vision and dreams for developments in the province.  Utula championed that area well too.
Gamato reached the position of deputy provincial administrator under then administrator , the late Sir Manasupe Zurenuoc, before both were called for national duties.

IF the previous seven years under Samana showed progress and promise, the following seven years were chaotic to the point of anarchy.
When Utula Samana resigned to contest the national elections he left in his place trusted Education Minister, Mrs Enny Moaitz as Premier.
For the balance of this term to 1988 and for the next six years, whatever gains had been made were stopped and even reversed through political infighting of the worst sort ever seen before or after this period.
The 1988 elections saw Joshua Hagai installed as the new premier of Morobe.
Within just a year Hagai was challenged in a flurry of motions of no confidence. The challenger in every instance was none other than Jerry Nalau.
Much of the years between 1987 and 1994 were spent trying to decide who was in office and who was out.
Although the province’s bureaucracy made valiant attempts to remain neutral it was inevitable that the political mudslinging would also rub off on them, not the least because political direction and the necessary resources for development projects were lacking.
For a full two-year period, political direction was lacking and much resource had to be diverted to political camps preparing for no less than three motions of no confidence. Almost all Tutumangs during this period concerned itself with motions of no confidence.
To the extent that in 1989 the then Provincial Affairs Minister John Momis felt compelled to exert his authority over the province and occupy the office of the Premier himself.
The confusion was such that on May, 1989, the National Court ordered both incumbent Premier Joshua Hagai and supposed successor through a motion of no confidence – Jerry Nalau to stay out of the offices of the premier. The same court eventually declared that Joshua was the duly elected premier.
Three days later a fresh motion of no confidence was filed by member for Kotte, Yaip Avini would later become Member for Finschaffen in Parliament.
It is pertinent to mention at this juncture that national Morobean parliamentarians were the puppet masters behind the scenes throughout this political charade. It was Samana who was backing Joshua Hagai especially to keep his arch political enemy, Jerry Nalau from the premier’s seat.
Samana’s political rivals in Parliament, Peter Garong and Timothy Bonga put their weight behind Nalau.
Downplaying his own prominent role in provincial politics, Samana told media on May 30, 1989: “ Too much of factional politics encouraged by Mr Garong and Mr Bonga has destroyed the province’s image and undermined its potential to co-operate and promote realistic development in the province.” When Premier Hagai defied a directive from Momis to meet him, and the reports emerged that guns had been used to kidnap members, Momis threatened the Morobe Provincial Government with suspension on June 8.
On June 14, Premier Hagai managed to cling to his top post with the aid of the provincial constitution which requires movers of no confidence votes to muster 24 votes to oust the incumbent from office.
Although Nalau had 23 members to the premier’s 12, he could not win because of that peculiar requirement written so cleverly into the Constitution.
The same had worked for Hagai on May 15 of that year when he boycotted a Tutumang sitting which proceeded to vote 23-0 to oust him from office. He was reinstated by National Court edict relying again on that particular proviso in the provincial constitution.
Bewildered
Throughout this period the Morobe Province was virtually under siege. The public and the business community were bewildered by the mind-numbing manner in which government facilities were misused in the name of one or the other of the political players and of the reports of members being kidnapped at gun-point. It is impossible to deduce what was happening to the far-flung district administrations or to the people of the province.
Commenting on the political turmoil, one of Morobe’s sons and preeminent journalists, the late Oseah Philemon wrote in the Post-Courier; “While the politicians exercise their rights, the people of Morobe are suffering.
“Morobe leaders must think seriously about where they want the province to go. Unless they start addressing the real needs of the people and looking for opportunities to boost development, the province will be left far behind.
“This is a province with real potential for development but unless there is political stability in the provincial government, nothing will be achieved for the people.”
On June 15, the Nalau faction used its numerical strength to pass a motion calling for a temporary suspension of the Morobe Provincial Government.
On July 9, Lae city was ransacked by rioters. It started at Eriku suburb where the new Papindo shop was broken into and ransacked. The group numbering several thousand ended up at the main shopping center at top town and stoned and looted most of the shops and offices.
Cabinet immediately issued a call out of defence force troops to help quell the lawlessness in Lae and throughout the province. A dawn to dusk curfew was immediately imposed and beleaguered business houses heaved a huge sigh of relief. Morobe was also declared a fighting zone at this time lasting 18 months. In the same decision, the Government decided finally to suspend the provincial government.
Veteran public servant, Benson Gegeyo was appointed administrator of Morobe.
Following provincial elections Jerry Nalau was elected premier by a vote of 20 to 13 on April 2, 1991 against Member for Umi, James Ibras. Premier Joshua Hagai won his elections and got nominated for the speaker’s post but lost out.
Nalau immediately declared: “The ship of Morobe…is in safe hands.”
Such hands, however safe, did not steer the ship of Morobe for long because by February 1992 Nalau announced his candidacy to run for national politics. He could not tolerate taunts and insults that a young man like Utula Samana was filing on him. He went after him.
Running under the Pangu Pati banner he won the Morobe regional seat in the national elections of that year, finally wrestling power triumphantly off his arch enemy, Utula Samana and relegating this once successful premier to the political wilderness where he remained until his passing.
It is pertinent to note the valiant efforts by the bureaucracy during the period of political infighting.
At the time the provincial government was suspended the provincial account was in the red to the tune of K5 million. Administrator Benson Gegeyo with the able assistance of legal officer, Mansupe Zurenoc implemented a daring provincial goods and sales services tax.
More taxes on the business community would not only have been futile but also fatal on the despairing business community most of whose patience were wearing very thin by then. This daring goods and services tax was designed and implemented in consultation with the Chamber of Commerce to expand the tax base and place the internal revenue raising responsibility in the hands of the general population.
The plan worked. Within a year the administration’s account was back in the black and K3 million to the good. A massive K8 million turnaround in financial fortunes was, under the prevailing political climate, a most commendable effort.
Morobe’s tax idea adopted
This taxation regime was abandoned by Morobe but its taxation scheme was adopted almost wholesale by the VAT legislation introduced by the National Government in 1999, nine years later.
Ironically, the first province to protest the national legislation and to fight it successfully in court was Morobe. It is obvious that this province had had at least four years’ experience with the tax system and had found it to be “obnoxious and repugnant” as it was to claim in its application to the Supreme Court against the VAT legislation.
When the provincial government reforms were introduced in 1995, it found the Morobe provincial government in suspension and a province in dire need of essential services.
Morobe might have been in a decrepit situation itself but it supplied the nation its experience. It was a virtual repeat of its goods and services tax. The Organic Law of Provincial and Local Level Governments (OLPLLG) adopted for the nation a system that was almost identical to the form that Morobe experienced under Samana, not the least because the man in charge of the national reforms was Samana’s long-time friend and advisor, Ben Micah.

Next: The Micah Reforms

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